Paris History One Translate App Away

facade view of Hôtel de Mayenne Rue de Rivoli and a Philippe Starck history marker
Philippe Starck-designed history marker in front of a school along Rue de Rivoli

The upside down paddles on the sidewalks around Paris are history markers of the city. The Philippe Starck-designed paddles are in French. When walking and not speaking French you can read them. Shocking? No. Simply install the Google Translate application on your smartphone. How to do it follows this short story.

Background story

Philippe Starck-designed history markers initiated by Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris

The paddles first appeared in 1992, the year I moved to Paris. The city of Paris contracted with JCDecaux to install the “pelles Starck” to inform the strolling passer-by about a monument, an event, an historical moment, a theater, a passage, etc. Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris, initiated the project.

For me the shape of the paddle or oar and the form of the Ile-de-la-Cité shaped like a boat go well with the Paris coat of arms, which is a boat. The Latin motto for the City of Paris is “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (tossed by the waves, but never sinks).

Image Paris Coat of Arms motto: Fluctuat new mergitur (tossed by the waves, but never sinks); Metro Line 1 Hotel de Ville

The Paris tourist office when it was located on the Champs-Elysées had a supply of maps to locate the markers. I began collecting all the arrondissement maps. Each map shows the location of the “spatulas” as the newspaper Le Parisien called them. Looking through the maps now feels like opening vintage books. My earliest dates from 1998; the last one from 2005. After several reprints, they exist no more–only as a collector’s item.

Map showing location of Philippe Starck history markers of Paris

My original idea was to translate all 767 for my website readers. One of my crazy time-consuming projects was to photograph each one of them and preserve the stories. Although the maps are no longer available, Wikipedia and two authors have already taken care of itemising and translating. 

Through Wikipedia’s page “Panneau Histore de Paris” , I found all twenty arrondissements listed. Within each arrondissement, the site provides the topic, the address, maybe an image of the paddle, the GPS and a photo of its location! When you open the English version of the Wikipedia page, a website is referenced called Paris by Plaque, to buy their book with the stories, history, mapped walks, etc.

How to read the history marker

In your journeys around Paris, if you notice one of these historical markers, take the time to listen or read the history in 12 easy steps:

  1. Take photo
  2. Ensure there is no reflection, with rather good contrast
  3. Open Google Translate App
  4. Ensure language is set “French to English”
  5. Choose image icon (iOS lower left)
  6. Look for square at bottom of page
  7. Press the square
  8. Read or listen to the language translation or enjoy the French
  9. Press the “home” icon and save the original and the translation
  10. Press the star icon and you preserve the memory
  11. Extra romantic tip: if you are two bring along a jack for two separate earbuds
  12. Enjoy your walk along Parisian sidewalks!
Translation by Google Translate
Translation by Google Translate

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